Imagine President Obama jumping into the Potomac for a swim, in the process signaling a violent youth movement that overturned state and local governments. Hard to believe? Something much like that happened in 1966 when Mao Zedong launched China's Cultural Revolution.
Now, we’re not comparing President Obama to Chairman Mao in terms of political agendas. But imagine, for a minute, watching the leader of the world’s most populous country take a dip in a river, don a white bathrobe and wave happily to the press. Meanwhile, he’s spawning a revolution that will shut down schools and slow industry to crawl as his Red Guard ransacks homes, schools and libraries, persecutes capitalists and religious leaders, and generally makes a mess of the whole country. Kind of an odd picture, isn’t it?
In a two-hour display of vigor, on July 16, 1966, the 72-year-old Mao Zedong swam the Yangtze River. He was reprising a swim he had made ten years earlier, which he’d immortalized in a poem. As the clip below shows, the 1966 swim not only set off a national swimming craze, it also heralded the beginning of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution . For ten years – until Mao’s death in 1976 – the Cultural Revolution sent China into a tailspin.